When one thinks about the top basketball conferences in Southern Illinois, the Greater Egyptian Conference usually isn’t part of the discussion.
But Wednesday night gave the much-maligned league a chance to pound its chest and do a little bit of bragging. Three of its teams will play for 1A regional championships Friday, and one is guaranteed to participate in a sectional that league member Gallatin County will host next week.
In fact, the Hawks could be part of that sectional. They travel to Hardin County for the title game of the Cougars’ regional that the GEC members flipped on its head Wednesday night by dumping favored Cobden and Meridian, respectively.
That Thompsonville is playing for a regional title surprises no one. The 31-2 Tigers might be underdogs against a Woodlawn team that beat them by double figures at Sesser-Valier’s tournament in late December, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to see them win their first regional.
“It’s funny how things go,” Thompsonville coach Pete Gordon said before practice Thursday. “I don’t pay a ton of time to what people say on social media, but when people question how good we are, it always comes back to strength of schedule and a weak league.
“There are eight teams alive for the sectional and three of them are GEC teams, so in some ways, there’s validation. But every postseason, it happens that way. It’s neat we have three teams still alive. It’s something to be proud of.”
Hardin County’s only 15-15, but the Cougars played a tough schedule that coach Rodney Lane says is paying off. Their come-from-behind 50-49 upset of Cobden on Wednesday night came as the result of a rally from a nine-point deficit with five minutes left.
Austin Smock’s layup off a broken play with a second remaining sealed the outcome. Johnny Johnson reversed his dribble out of a trap and found freshman Jake Vaughn, who eyed Smock all alone for the game-winner.
“There was a stretch in the middle of the season where we didn’t play well, but part of it is starting two sophomores and a freshman,” Lane said. “The kids are starting to learn how to win at this point.
“I think the conference has been really tough this year. Gallatin County and Thompsonville have seniors that have started for four years. We’re pretty young, but our schedule has helped our kids get to this point.”
ALL-STATE TEAMS ANNOUNCED: A total of six players from the area, including two from Vienna, earned honorable mention selections on the Associated Press All-State Class 1A/2A teams that were announced Thursday.
Eagles guard Haleigh Keeling and forward Alyssa Jones picked up votes but didn’t make either of the first two teams in 2A. Keeling averaged 11.6 points and 2.2 assists, while Jones scored a team-high 13.1 ppg and averaged 10.1 rebounds.
Hamilton County’s Anna Miller, Harrisburg’s Karsyn Davis and Sesser-Valier-Waltonville’s Sami McCowen also earned honorable mention in 2A. Goreville’s Payton Sopczak was the only 1A player from the area to get honorable mention.
Miller bagged 13 points, three rebounds and three steals per game for the 28-4 Foxes, while Davis scored 14 ppg and averaged 10 rebounds for the 28-6 Bulldogs. McCowen paced the Red Devils with 13.5 ppg while grabbing 4.2 boards and canning 40 percent of her 3-point attempts.
Sopczak scored 14.6 ppg while dishing out 4.8 assists for the Blackcats. She also contributed 4.7 rebounds and 3.1 steals, hitting 53 percent of her field goal tries.
The top vote-getter in 1A was Notre Dame signee Anaya Peoples of Danville Schlarman, while Hillsboro’s Sammi Matoush picked up the most votes in 2A.
ON THE DOTTED LINE: Keeling and McCowen have signed with Rend Lake College to continue their basketball careers, while Harrisburg senior Brooke Meylor has verbaled with Southeastern Illinois College. Jones is going to Shawnee College.